Poetry Sunday: The Laws of Motion by Nikki Giovanni

From her profile in Poetry Foundation magazine: "Nikki Giovanni is one of the best-known African-American poets who reached prominence during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Her unique and insightful poetry testifies to her own evolving awareness and experiences: from child to young woman, from naive college freshman to seasoned civil rights activist, from daughter to mother. Frequently anthologized, Giovanni’s poetry expresses strong racial pride and respect for family. Her informal style makes her work accessible to both adults and children."

Here's something completely different from what is usually featured here, but I would agree with the Poetry Foundation assessment that it is unique and insightful, as well as accessible. Enjoy!

The Laws of Motion

by Nikki Giovanni
(for Harlem Magic)
The laws of science teach us a pound of gold weighs as   
much as a pound of flour though if dropped from any   
undetermined height in their natural state one would
reach bottom and one would fly away

Laws of motion tell us an inert object is more difficult to   
propel than an object heading in the wrong direction is to   
turn around. Motion being energy—inertia—apathy.   
Apathy equals hostility. Hostility—violence. Violence   
being energy is its own virtue. Laws of motion teach us

Black people are no less confused because of our   
Blackness than we are diffused because of our
powerlessness. Man we are told is the only animal who   
smiles with his lips. The eyes however are the mirror of
the soul

The problem with love is not what we feel but what we   
wish we felt when we began to feel we should feel
something. Just as publicity is not production: seduction
is not seductive

If I could make a wish I’d wish for all the knowledge of all   
the world. Black may be beautiful Professor Micheau
says but knowledge is power. Any desirable object is
bought and sold—any neglected object declines in value.   
It is against man’s nature to be in either category

If white defines Black and good defines evil then men
define women or women scientifically speaking describe
men. If sweet is the opposite of sour and heat the
absence of cold then love is the contradiction of pain and
beauty is in the eye of the beheld

Sometimes I want to touch you and be touched in   
return. But you think I’m grabbing and I think you’re   
shirking and Mama always said to look out for men like   

So I go to the streets with my lips painted red and my   
eyes carefully shielded to seduce the world my reluctant   

And you go to your men slapping fives feeling good   
posing as a man because you know as long as you sit   
very very still the laws of motion will be in effect


  1. I loved it. The sound of an intelligent woman working out truth!

    1. I was happy to discover this poem. I thought it was wonderful.

  2. A powerful poem in an understated kind of way.

    1. That understated thing is part of its power, I think, and what helps to make it accessible.

  3. Just beautiful! Thank you, Dorothy.

    1. Thank you for reading, Shirley. I'm glad you enjoyed it.


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